Posts Tagged ‘faith in God’

Joshua 3:1-17 (Part 3 of 4)

The Israelites Cross the Jordan

It does not make any sense to me at times! Here I am at 54 years old. I am pursuing my doctor of ministry degree. I just finished my first semester in the program. I am not in full-time ministry. I am barely in part-time ministry.

 

I have two secular-minded degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Furman University (June 1983) and a Master of Science in Business Management from Southern Wesleyan University (December 2000) to go with the one spiritually-minded degree that I already have, a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry from North Greenville University (May 2014). The business-related degrees have served me well. I have a great career in the business world. I am no great business leader on the world stage, mind you, but I have had a good career. It has been a progression of increased responsibility throughout the past 32 years of my career. There have been a few minor setbacks here and there but generally the progression has been upward in responsibility and, especially, in salary. I make good money. I am no millionaire or anything close to it, but where I am at right now, my earning ability has allowed me to take care of myself, my wife and my kids and to be a generous person to my church and to people that we see in need that we want to invest in. God has blessed Elena and I immeasurably over the past decade that we have been together (seven of which we have been husband and wife).

 

Then, why is that I am pursuing a calling into ministry when there is no evidence that it will ever come to fruition? God has not really made it abundantly clear what that call to ministry is going to look like in reality. Right now, all he has said is to get prepared. First, as part of that call, Elena and I have been working the past 8 years or so in cleaning up old debts, then, paying off current ones, and, most recently downsizing our mortgage. Both of our cars are paid for and our house payment is now about two-thirds of what it was at our previous home. We have done the background work that will allow us to deal with a reduced salary in whatever God leads us to do. God has said to pursue my master’s degree in Christian ministry and I did that and it was one of the most energized times of my relationship with Jesus Christ that I have ever experienced. It was an awesome time of learning. He has led me to pursue my D.Min. degree and I am doing that. I am not that big on recreational reading (reading for the fun of it) so all the reading that I have had to do in this doctoral program just in the first semester has been fun. This semester has been about Christian leadership principles and I have read over 2,000 pages in completing 7 different books. That’s the most I have read in one short period of time – ever! There are concepts about Christian leadership that I have learned that will help me not only in my ministerial pursuits but also in my business career.

 

But why am I doing this? It is probably foolish to some who observe my life. They may chuckle behind my back as to why would I want to pursue my doctorate when there is absolutely no evidence at the present time that I will ever have a full-time ministerial position. They might be saying that you have a good life so just enjoy that. Instead of occupying your time with what seems like a fool’s pursuit, just enjoy the last full decade of your secular career before you retire. I think for my birth year bracket that I have 13 years left in my secular career before I can retire with full social security benefits in addition to what retirement I have been able to put away in the last decade. Why not just enjoy these years of the final stretch run of my career? Why pursue a fool’s dream? Nobody is going to take you seriously in the ministry anyway, Mark!

 

Outside the ministry, people may say that I am a fool for pursuing a D.Min. degree because there is really no reason for it. Inside the ministry world, the movers and shakers and decision makers may see me as a guy that is just on some spiritual quest but one who is not truly qualified to shepherd people in full-time ministry. To them, I may be a guy that doesn’t know the secret handshakes and the inner workings on the profession that they have been in since college. They have dedicated their whole lives to it and I am just a guy that may be on a spiritual high for a couple of years (in pursuing the things that I am pursuing) that will burn out and fade away. I don’t know that my call is to be one of these radical guys who can plant churches. But I do know that I am called. God has not yet made what is behind the next door yet.

 

All He has said at this point is get prepared. It is not necessary to go to seminary or to pursue your doctoral degree to be a good preacher or teaching pastor. I know this. Just look at some of the best church planters out there. Some have formal degrees. Some do not. However, for me, God has led me to higher levels of education. I don’t know how He is going to use it yet, but that’s what He has led me to do. Part of executing God’s call on our lives is taking that first step.

 

The idea that we must sometimes step out in faith and do what God has called us to do is what struck me this morning as I read through Joshua 3 for the third time this morning. Let us read through it together once again this morning:

 

3 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

 

5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

 

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

 

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

 

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

 

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

 

In this passage, we see that the Israelites were eager to enter the Promised Land, conquer nations, and live peacefully thereafter. But, first, they had to cross the Jordan River when it was at its fullest peak during the spring season. God gave them specific instructions. In order for them to cross the river, the priests had to step into the water first. What if these priests had been afraid to take that first step. Often, God provides no solutions to our problems until we fully trust Him, move ahead in faith, and do what He has called us to do. What are your rivers in your life that God has called you to cross?

 

Has God called you to do something that just seems insurmountable or maybe it is something that just seems foolish. Has God called you to do something that you might not see immediate results from it but you have taken the first step? I know that feeling.

 

Right now, I am questioning what the whole point of my pursuit of the ministry at this point. I have pursued the things that I believe God has called me toward so that I will be prepared for what He has for me. However, right now, there is just no clear evidence of what’s next. We are ready both financially and spiritually. We are eager to rush into what’s next. But God is not revealing it. He is just saying right now to step into the river. Take those steps of faith. Walk into the Jordan River right now when it is over its riverbanks and is at its most dangerous time of year. Take the steps into the river. I cannot reveal my power to you until you step into the river. That may seem foolish. That may seem contrary to all that is normal in your mind. People may call you foolish for stepping into the river with no lifeline or guarantees of what will happen next.

 

God is saying “Step into the river. Have faith. I don’t have to show you what’s next until I am ready to reveal it to you. I am asking your as your Father in Heaven to trust me enough to step into wild river because I have asked you to do so. Step out in faith. Even when it makes no sense to anyone else but you and Me. I am your God. Trust me. Just step into the river. It’s all that I am asking you to do right now. Trust me.”

 

What is God calling you to do? Does it seem too silly to consider? How can we experience what God has next for us if we do not take that first step in the journey in faith. We cannot experience that miracles that come after we step into the river…until we step into the river.

 

What’s God calling you to do? You must first step into the river in faith. It may seem like the dumbest thing you have ever done, but there’s faith that comes from not knowing what’s next. Trust God. Step into the river.

 

Amen and Amen.

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Numbers 10:11-36 (Part 2)

The Israelites Leave Sinai

At this time of year, college football teams are deep into their preparations for the season. Two weeks from now, thank you, Jesus!, college football season begins. As a college football fan of a college team that played for the national championship last year and a team who is expected to compete at the highest level again this year, I cannot wait for September 3rd for the opening kickoff of the 2016 Clemson Tiger football season when they travel to face-off against Auburn, the other tigers. However, as a football team at the beginning of the season, they must gather together in early August to begin preparations for the season. Training camp is where coaches must assess the new recruits and the existing players and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses as the replace players who graduated. Much has to be done as each year’s team is different from the last as you lose a senior class and replace it with a new freshman class. Preparation. Putting in changes to offensive and defensive standards for the season. Getting players into shape for the grind of potentially 15 games (12 regular season games, potentially a conference championship game, and potentially 2 games in the college football playoff). It is a time of preparation. It is a time of establishing a routine to football life. During the season, there is a rhythm to each week of preparation for the next opponent. Putting in game plans. Working the expected game plan of the opponent. There is a sequence to it all each week. Training camp is to establish that routine, that sequence of events that is to transpire each week. Each part of the football team (offense, defense, special teams) all have the responsibilities in getting ready for the season during training camp and then each week during the season.

 

My Clemson Tigers will not just show up at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, AL on Saturday, September 3, 2016 at 9:00pm and play. There has been training camp that get them prepared for the season as whole and that last week (August 28-September 2) will involve getting ready specifically to play Auburn. There is an order at which college football teams prepare for the season and for each weekly opponent. Teams don’t just show up and play. Even the logistical side of things that allow a team to go on a road trip game such as when Clemson travels to play Auburn in two weeks. Equipment must be organized. Hotel arrangements for the team and coaching staff must be made. There are a hundred things that have to happen when a major college football team goes on a road trip game that we, as fans, do not see. But, if any of those things fall through or do not get done, it can wreak havoc on the whole process and get a team all out of sorts and can even effect how the team plays on Saturday night. Those sequences of tasks have to be done in order and with precision so that when the ball kicks off at 9pm that night, we the fans can enjoy seeing our Tigers play and the players themselves can just go do what they do. The sequence of events in practice all week, the logistics of taking a large group of people from Clemson to Auburn, all make way for the fun of playing and watching college football on a college football Saturday night.

 

It is that idea of preparation, of proper order, and how the behind the scenes planning by God makes the movement of a million people seem like precision clockwork. There had to be preparation, planning, and flawless execution. Let’s think about that as we read this passage for the second time today, Numbers 10:11-36, and lets pay attention to the sequencing of the tribes (particularly those who were to carry the tabernacle and those who were to carry the holy things of tabernacle):

 

11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. 13 They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses.

 

14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15 Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16 and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.

 

18 The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.

 

22 The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin.

 

25 Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. 26 Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, 27 and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.

 

29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.”

 

30 He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people.”

 

31 But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32 If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”

 

33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. 34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.

 

35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,

 

“Rise up, Lord!

    May your enemies be scattered;

    may your foes flee before you.”

 

36 Whenever it came to rest, he said,

 

“Return, Lord,

    to the countless thousands of Israel.”

 

 

I think that the amazing thing here to me is how God instructed Moses to sequence the tribes as they marched from one place to another. There is something to be said to us as we read through this passage. Notice that tribe divisions that are responsible for the break down and set up of the tabernacle always went before the tribe divisions that were responsible for the packing, carrying, and unpacking of the holy objects of the tabernacle. Notice, too, that there was a tribe that marched in between the tabernacle setter-upper tribe and the tabernacle objects carrying tribe. That’s an important logistical detail. The sequence had to be that way. When the tribes arrived at a new location, it would take a while to get everybody into camp so the sequence of events was important. It was important for the tabernacle to be set up before the guys with the furniture showed up. The house had to be built before the movers with the contents show up. There was enough distance between the tabernacle setter-uppers and the holy object carriers that the tabernacle could be put back together just in time for the object bearers to show up in camp. Precision planning on God’s part, huh?

 

God has a plan and sequence for our lives too. Have you ever thought that God has you right where he wants you at the moment? He has a plan for the path of our lives and we must trust Him with. Sometimes, we want to jump ahead of God. Sometimes we want to be like a football team that takes off for a road game without letting the logistics team leave the day before with all the equipment, without letting that advance team get all that set up, get the hotel rooms squared away and meeting rooms set up, getting the guest locker room set up and so on. When we jump ahead of God’s plan and we can cause ourselves pain. What if there is a reason that God has you right where you for a reason. One of my coined phrases is, “God has us right here, right now, with these people, in this place to do what God wants to do through us as His people in this place, at this moment, with these people.” God has us where He wants us to teach us what we need to be taught in this particular sequence of our lives. As my senior pastor often says, “God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us.” So many times in life, we complain about where we are at in life and want what’s next before we are ready for it. It’s sometimes that we are an elementary school football player wanting to be on the high school team right now. However, if you gave the elementary school kid that opportunity before they are ready for it, they will get crushed at practice and will never see the field in games. They would probably give up and quit. There is a plan to develop the elementary school football player as he grows so that he will be ready to play high school ball when it is time. It is the same for us. Let us enjoy the moment that we are in and learn what we need to learn. The closed doors that you keep knocking are maybe closed and unresponsive at this point because God still has work to do in you and through you right here, right now, where you are. God always let us know, through the  Holy Spirit’s pricking, prodding and cajoling of our soul, when it is time to move. The Holy Spirit will show us when the pillar of fire and smoke is lifting and moving us ahead into the next thing. We are in sequence right now where we are supposed to be. God does not want us to show up in the new campsite before the tabernacle is built. He wants us to arrive with the holy objects at just the right time and in the right sequence of events.

 

God does not want us to fail. He does not want to throw us into the deep waters without first having taught us to swim in the deep waters. He wants you to succeed so learn what you need to learn right now in the ministry that you are in. There is a sequence and a plan. Enjoy the ministry that you are in. God is using what you do right now. It is not wasted time. You may be reaching people for the Lord. You may be discipling people into deeper walks with the Lord right now without even realizing it. You may be impacting someone for their future ministry in the Lord right now. What if your quest for excellence in everything you do, your passion to be excellent for the Lord, is impacting someone you lead right now. Maybe, you know and have this feeling that God has bigger plans for you but don’t forget that God has a sequence of events and plans for your life and that this moment is a crucial and important part of the sequence of events and plans. Without this time frame where you are serving where you are serving, you may not be ready for what God truly has in store for you. Each step in our walk with the Lord is preparation for the next. Each step we take in ministry is preparation for the next. There is a sequence. We must trust it, enjoy it, and not short circuit it. God will let us know when its time for the next thing. We don’t just show up for football games. There is a whole sequence of events done in proper order that gets a team ready for kickoff. We must trust that the sequence of events that we are going through is all part of the necessary plan that God has for our lives. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Everything, every step is used to develop us into the servants that He wants us to be.

 

Amen and Amen.